Remembering a great friend and Canadian technology champion

Mark McQueen

These are painful times.

Jeff Booth, Co-founder, President & CEO of BuildDirect wrote a beautiful goodbye to our mutual friend Derek Smyth yesterday.  With Derek’s sudden loss, coming so quickly on the heels of the equally sad passing of Alistair Blackburn and Geoff Taber, I must admit to being unable to frame my thoughts.  There are now three large holes in the Canadian ecosystem, and we’ve been lucky enough to have had the pleasure of working with them all.

Jeff’s heartfelt and cogent letter to Derek deserves to be read by all, and I hope he doesn’t mind if I repost it here to ensure it reaches as wide an audience as possible. There are some great “life lessons” for the rest of us:

Over the course of your life as an entrepreneur, there are people you encounter who truly shape and change the trajectory of your business. For me, one of those people was Derek Smyth and last night, surrounded by those that love and admire him, he lost his battle with brain cancer. In this sad moment, I find myself reflecting on the years I’ve spent learning from him as a mentor and a friend.

I first met Derek when OMERS was just starting to get involved in venture capital (VC) and Derek had a vision for creating a world-class VC that could help support the next generation of Canadian leaders. We chose OMERS because of the type of person that Derek was and the endless support and guidance that he provided at critical points in our growth. I know that I am not alone in saying that, for he was also involved early with many other Canadian success stories including Shopify, Hopper, Vision Critical, and Hootsuite.

With that in mind, to my dear friend, I’d like to extend my sincerest gratitude:

Thank you for your integrity. For challenging me and my team, but doing it in a way that focused on the real problems and the root causes.  By truly caring about our personal success, but not letting that get in the way of calling out when we could do better, you helped us drive immense shareholder value and helped me grow as a leader.

Thank you for your humility. Always searching for the real truth is something that is so rare in business today. All too often ego and pride get in the way, which frustrates real growth. You ensured that was never the case – with business or with the people around you. This allowed all of us to ask better questions and also admit our own mistakes. Doing that in an extremely fast-moving environment, where you’re working with unknowns and creating a future that exists only on paper, is a hard task. It never once seemed that way with you, because you helped keep the conversation focused on the real truths.

Thank you for your generous support of Canadian technology. Your tireless effort and support of entrepreneurs has made more of a positive impact than you can imagine. A huge part of my personal success and that of BuildDirect is due to the wisdom and insights that you gently passed down. I know I’m not the only one who feels this gratitude because I often run into others who sing your praises. Even more importantly, your gift is one that travels well. The way in which you gave first without any expectation of return ensures that most of the people you have helped end up returning the favor to others. I have personally taken those lessons and try every day to pay your learnings forward.

Achievement can be measured in many ways: accolades, profit, titles. But the most important measure is how you have positively impacted others. By that standard, Derek, you made every minute count. The Canadian technology landscape is far richer for having you in it and you will be forever missed.

To Sarah and his family, I wish you my sincerest condolences.


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